Cook County Court Declares Illinois Medical Liability Tort Reform

Illinois doctors and patients received some very bad news: Cook County
Circuit Court Judge Diane Larsen ruled the medical litigation reforms
enacted by the Illinois General Assembly in 2005 as unconstitutional. This
finding catapults the entire matter directly to the Illinois Supreme court
for consideration.

“We are disappointed in the decision, which strikes down the very careful
and deliberate effort of the state legislature to bring vital reforms to
Illinois,� said Theodore B. Olson, former U.S. Solicitor General and
prominent constitutional scholar who heads the ISMS/ISMIE team defending the
law. “In 2005, Illinois lawmakers faced healthcare shortages throughout
Illinois due to an exodus of medical professionals triggered by
out-of-control medical malpractice litigation. It’s a well-documented fact
that reforms like these are working in other states. They attract more
doctors and make healthcare more widely available.�

Among a host of reform provisions aimed at preserving patient access to
medical care, the law in question capped non-economic damage awards at
$500,000 for physicians and $1 million for hospitals.

Non-economic damages are largely unpredictable and unquantifiable sums
awarded by juries for emotional issues such as pain and suffering. Under the
reform law, victims of true medical negligence could still receive unlimited
economic damages such as lost wages, medical expenses, and future earning
potential.

“This is only ‘round one’ in the battle to uphold these reforms, which have
been crucial in slowing the number of doctors fleeing our state and helping
in the recruitment of specialists,� said Rodney C. Osborn, MD, Illinois
State Medical Society president. “Getting rid of the 2005 medical litigation
reforms now would be like benching your starting lineup in the toughest game
of the season. We can’t afford to forfeit patients’ access to care.�

The three civil lawsuits, which call the reforms into question are LeBron v.
Gottlieb Memorial Hospital; Alexander v. Nacopoulos, et al; and Zago v.
Resurrection Medical Center, et al. Judge Larsen cited the Illinois
Constitution’s separation of powers clause in declaring unconstitutional the
non-economic damages cap, and thereby invalidating the entire reform law.

“We see very promising signs that things are recovering here, that
litigation reforms are really beginning to work in both the medical
liability marketplace and with patients being able to find medical care,�
said Harold L. Jensen, MD, ISMIE Mutual Insurance Co. chairman. “We will
fight to overturn today’s decision so that when the 2005 reforms are
ultimately upheld by the state’s high court, doctors can once again look to
Illinois as a good place to practice medicine. We eagerly wait for that
day.�

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